First Florida college sculpture to be deployed by Palm Beach County

Published Friday, November 13, 2020

More than 60 PBSC students worked on the Reef Hope Project Artificial Reef Sculpture, which will now become a habitat for marine life in the Lake Worth Inlet.
PBSC art students created marine life-inspired ceramic forms that adorn the sculpture's base.

(Palm Beach Gardens, FL – Nov. 13, 2020) Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management will sink an artificial reef sculpture on Nov. 16 that was created by Palm Beach State College students. The sculpture was picked up this morning from the College's Palm Beach Gardens campus, the first step to its underwater home near the Lake Worth inlet  

Weighing 10 tons and measuring 13 feet long, 8 feet wide and 11 feet tall, the PBSC artificial reef sculpture will be lowered from a barge to a depth of 40 feet about 1 mile southeast of the Lake Worth Inlet, approximately 3,000 feet from the shore, where it will become a habitat for marine species and an attraction for scuba divers and anglers. The GPS coordinates are 26 45.31, -80 01.581.  

An interdisciplinary collaboration, the sculpture reflects the talents and skills of more than 60 students and five faculty members from PBSC’s Environmental Science, Welding Technology, Art, and Engineering Technology departments.   

This is the first sculpture project Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management has done with a Florida college, noted Jena McNeal, the department’s senior environmental analyst and artificial reef coordinator. Ware happy to be included in this collaborative project and to learn that so many students played a part in the sculpture’s journey to completion.  

The sculpture’s journey began three years ago, when Jessica Miles, Ph.D., professor and chair of PBSC's Environmental Science Technology Department, decided to dedicate her one-semester sabbatical to helping save the dying coral reefs—an international problem that hasn’t spared South Florida. 

The 2017 sabbatical became the ongoing Reef Hope Project that has produced innovative curriculum, technical skills trainings and field research studies in artificial reef structures and marine life.    

The idea for the Reef Hope Project Artificial Reef Sculpture came to Miles when she discovered other underwater creative works that were benefiting marine environments around the world  

“I saw how beautiful the sculptures were as they transformed over time to be encrusted with living organisms, and thought what an amazing contribution to the environment and to the local community if we could participate in something like this.  

The sculpture's stainless steel form, fabricated by welding students, represents a DNA helix in the shape of the infinity symboland small ceramic sculptures of coral-like forms, created by art students, adorn the base. Engineering students produced CAD drawings to help determine the size and weight of the sculpture and account for wave action, so that even if a hurricane comes through, the sculpture won’t topple. Environmental science students assisted with the sculpture research and assembly and will also participate in ongoing studies to determine which species utilize the artificial reef over time. All materials were thoroughly researched and tested for durability and safety for marine life.  

“Taking the DNA helix and turning it into an infinity symbol conveys the message that we hope to be a part of sustaining life for many generations to come,” Miles said. Artificial reefs attract coral, but also hundreds of different species of fish congregate around these reef sites. Because of climate change, artificial reefs will be a refuge for corals and other marine creatures as they start to seek out tolerable water temperatures. We’re essentially facilitating species movements as they adjust to rising sea temperatures.   

Healthy reefs also protect the economy and especially help the tourism and fishing industries, which are so important to Florida. Reefs provide billions of dollars in coastal protection by breaking up the wave action from storms, which reduces inland flooding and saves money otherwise spent on beach renourishment.   

“There's a huge human tie to all of these efforts. Artificial reefs are just one component, one measure of helping to heal our environment that's definitely under threat,” Miles said. We want to show how PBSC is a leader in this field.  

PBSC's sculpture has been ready and on display at the Palm Beach Gardens campus since late 2019. Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management will cover the cost of transporting the donated sculpture and deploying it at sea. “They have overseen lots of other deployments of these types of offshore materials and sculptures in our area, so they’ve been an excellent partner,” Miles said.   

I feel so appreciative of the attention that's been brought to the College through the Reef Hope Project,” Miles continuedThis has been getting the message out there, and having students involved in every single step has given them real-world career applications for their skills and an appreciation for how their actions can make the world a better place.  

Serving 47,000 students annually, Palm Beach State College is the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County, providing bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, professional certificates, career training and lifelong learning. Established in 1933 as Florida's first public community college, Palm Beach State offers more than 130 programs of study at locations in Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves.  

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